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When to go on a wildebeest migration safari

The annual migration is estimated at 1.5 to 2 million wildebeests. Along with thousands of herds of 300,000 plains zebras, impala, eland, 500,000 Thompson’s gazelles is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in Africa. The wildebeest migration catches the eye especially at river Crossings. The most spectacular moments happen as the animals struggle to cross the crocodile-infested Mara River waters. But, there’s so much more wildlife to see than just the dangerous crossings including Big Five and Masai people.

The migration takes place throughout the year in Serengeti ecosystem, in East Africa. The greater Serengeti includes Masai Mara National Reserve in south-western Kenya and Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania. The Mara River divides both parks, though most of it is found on the Kenya side. If you want to see more than just wildebeests on your Tanzania migration safari, it’s easy to include other parks of northern Tanzania circuit in your itinerary including Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara for tree climbing lions and Tarangire (for huge elephant herds) National Parks.

The animals migrate in search of green pastures that are dependent on the rainfall patterns of East Africa. The wildebeests follow their traditional routes as indicated by most wildebeest migration maps, although, the two million animals don’t move altogether in a single herd. It’s considered to be true that there are several super herds (mixed or not) each moving continuously in their own way due to competition for fresh grass. Predators with exception of hyena do not follow the migration cheetah, leopard, lion. Instead, the vultures tend to fly above to indicate where predator kills are. Big cats wait for prey to cross through the territories. Most, importantly, the integral parts of the migration include the calving season (birthing) December to February, the Mara River crossings (August to October), Grumeti River crossing (June to mid-July) and the rutting / breeding season (April to May). These factors play an important role in planning a migration safari, where to go at different times of the year.

Let’s look at why and where you need to go at different times of the year – tracking the wildebeest migration month by month.

Accommodation options

Choosing where to stay plays at the right time of the year will guarantee success for wildebeest migration – whether in Kenya or Tanzania. Kenya contains almost 90% of the safari lodges and tented camps than there are in Serengeti Tanzania side. But the wildebeests spend almost 8 months in Serengeti National Park and only 3 in Masai Mara. For that reason, Serengeti Park may not get crowds as it usually happens in Masai Mara during the peak season August to September. Alternatively, there are mobile camps that follow the migration all-year-round especially for luxury migration safari. In the same way, travelers can stay in permanent lodges set on the river banks along the traditional migration routes. Chances are if you explore both sides of Mara River with this option, you get to see the animals from all angles – when they are attempting to cross and arrive on the other side.

Number of days needed

Averagely, one needs at least 5 days for a migration safari. Depending on time of the year, interests and budget, your itinerary can one or two weeks long. The accessibility of both parks differs. Masai Mara is 4-hour drive from Nairobi capital city. Serengeti is much longer from Arusha or Kilimanjaro when using a drive safari. Usually, the first day of arrival is for resting and the following day is spent driving to the lodge with possible evening game drives. On the third day, game viewing officially begins and the guarantee for wildlife sightings is still limited until the fourth day when you explore much of the area you are in. Alternatively flying Tanzania safari maximises time for game viewing. For that reason, we offer both options and in the case of Kenya, Mantis Africa Safaris will balance your safari stay in the Mara Triangle and one of the conservancies. Conservancies offer much more activities including night game drives, Masai community visits and game walks. 

Seasons (month by month guide to wildebeest migration)

Wildebeest migration occurs in particular seasons despite being an all-year-round cycle. These include the river crossings, breeding and calving season which occur in different months as explained below: - 

The best time of the year to see wildebeest migration in Serengeti National Park Tanzania is between April, May and June to mid-July. Serengeti is divided into central and western sections. The central part is also known as Seronera Valley are the breeding grounds for the wildebeests in April and May. The western corridor includes Grumeti River and its surrounding controlled game areas from south to north such as Mbalagati, Musabi, Ruwana plains and Ikorongo Game Reserve respectively.

Grumeti River Crossings

From central Serengeti, the animals proceed further north which coincides with the Grumeti River crossing season in Tanzania between June to mid-July. Since the Grumeti River area is large, specific points or accommodation need to be selected for better chances to view the Grumeti River crossings.

Mara River Crossings, Kenya

Once the animals cross the Grumeti River in western Serengeti, they continue for the first crossing of Mara River still on the Tanzania side. This occurs quickly due to the shallowness of waters and less obstacles. By late June the wildebeests are set for the most challenging part of their journey – the Mara River crossing into Masai Mara National Reserve. The best time to see Mara River Crossings is between August to October. There’s always drama due to many crocodiles ready to catch their prey. The animals that survive the disaster re-unite in big herds and tend to spend the whole month of November grazing to gain energy in the Mara Triangle. However, some of them are limping or nursing injuries therefore migrate in scatters.

At the start of December, wildebeest migration continues through north-eastern parts of Serengeti. They pass through Ndutu plains and Liliondo controlled game area on the edge of Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara National Park famous for its tree climbing lions.

Calving season

The wildebeest calving occurs in the southern part of Serengeti National Park. The season starts from December through January to February, though it depends on the birthing and rain patterns. The wildebeest are likely not migrating in big herds as it is in the north. Because most of the animals are pregnant and slow going. An estimated 8000 wildebeest calves are born each day which accounts for abundance of easy prey for predators. There’s a high chance to see birthing of calves and hunting lion, hyena, cheetah and even leopard. The best places to stay to see the wildebeest calving are the mobile camps because they follow the animals from north to south. Calving season, also coincides with the off-season in Tanzania. This makes Mantis Africa safaris' migration safari affordable given that most safari lodges tend to offer discounts on their accommodation.

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